Saturday, 13 April 2013

A Bacchanalian Sniff-In With Freddie of Smellythoughts

Selfridges via
I have heard it said that many Londoners - notwithstanding the cornucopia of culture on their doorsteps - do not fully take advantage of what is going on in the capital.  By the same token, Birmingham, the second largest city in Britain, is a 30 minute train ride away from where I live, and I hardly ever go there either - whether to attend concerts, exhibitions, or just to cruise the temple to consumerism that is the newly revamped Bullring.  But last Saturday I propelled myself through my inertia and bought a ticket for a matinee performance of a film I had been dying to see (Good Vibrations), which was showing for two days only in the UK's oldest working cinema, the Electric.

Meanwhile, I contacted Freddie Albrighton of Smellythoughts - whom I managed to miss meeting at recent PLL events in London - and asked if he fancied hooking up afterwards for a sniffing session and/or a coffee.  Happily Freddie was well up for a blind date (as we do!), but because he works on a Saturday we agreed to meet straight after my film, just outside the train station.

The upstairs foyer at the Electric Cinema 

It was easy to spot Freddie at the bottom of the New Street ramp on account of his distinctive hoop earrings, and he led me without ado to a favourite watering hole, a cellar bar in Burlington Arcade called Bacchus.  It was like stepping into an Arthurian legend: there were vaulted stone arches, flaming torches in sconces and tapestry wall hangings.  The bar was divided into different levels, with cosy snugs at every turn - sadly all of them taken by early doors revellers.  So I loitered with intent in a spot where I could keep an eye on people's comings and goings while Freddie got the first round in.  I can report that despite the medieval ambience of Bacchus, the bar stocked a number of contemporary tipples such as Appletizer and Freddie's preferred brand of Antipodean pear cider, Rekorderlig - an apt choice for someone who recently spent a year in New Zealand.  Moments later Freddie returned with the drinks, and suddenly we spied a table just being vacated, on which we swooped with alacrity.

Bacchus Bar via

The next two hours were a blur of enjoyable chitchat about our lives, our "perfume journeys" (if I may briefly annexe that hateful X-Factor term), our favourite styles of scents, our approach to blogging and thoughts on the latest developments in Perfume Land.  And it goes without saying that there was a Bacchanalian orgy of sniffing and sample exchanging.  By the end of the session we had covered ourselves in a veritable cacophony of scents all up our arms.  I do recall that Freddie had Damien Bash Lucifer #3 in the crook of his right elbow, while I had the cult scent Shiseido/SL Nombre Noir below the base of my right forefinger - but the rest is consigned to oblivion.

My sample haul from Freddie included three Vero Profumos (I get to try Mito again!), three samples from Magnetic Scent and two from O'Driu (lines that were completely under my radar), plus a complete set of JAR Parfums (which I smelt in Paris but would like to try again, even though at least three smelt of carnation. : - ) )  Freddie also gave me a vial of Miel de Bois - he is a self-styled "enfant terrible" after all, and it was every drop the evil honeyed thing of my traumatised memory - and one of actual perfumer's ambergris (1 year old 1% black ambergris tincture to be precise), which I was very excited to smell.


On the day, my preferred scent out of all the ones I tested has to be Nombre Noir, a dark aldehydic rose with osmanthus, though to my nose it read in a lighter register - a bit sherbety and springlike, with a vibe not unlike Guerlain Chamade or a powdery version of DelRae Debut.  Freddie explained how Luca Turin considers Nombre Noir to be "one of the five great perfumes in the world".  It is pretty special for sure and I am very glad to own a little bit of this (criminally discontinued) legend.

Then today Freddie has followed up his initial generosity with another pouch of perfumes in the post(!), including three from Aftelier - I am currently swooning over Secret Garden and completely revising my previous lariness around natural scents - Miriam(!), Tawaf from La Via del Profumo and a few other bits and bobs.  Special mention should also be made of the curious upside down test tube vials Freddie favours.  They certainly score highly on the snap-fitting front and I may seek out some of my own.

The JARS are in a cheeky Hermes box - ha!

A highlight of my meeting with Freddie has to be a discreet shufty at his tattoos, which are extensive but completely covered up by his clothes.  I have never been tempted to get a tattoo myself, but Freddie's were an impressive sight and there is clearly a lot of artistry involved.

Oh, and there was one more thing I brought up during our chat which amused Freddie - my diary entry from the very day he was born, a snowy winter's day over 20 years ago:

"Got up late c11am.  Ventured out to shops in blizzard conditions!  Bought impulse present for Mother.  Tea and scone in Soup Kitchen.  Power cut c5pm.  David pissed off and I spent the evening reading The Telegraph and New Woman by bicycle lamp, after finding a rather unsavoury pasty at Oasis."  

Notes: David was my lodger at the time, while Oasis is a chippy that has changed hands several times since.


Anonymous said...

Aw I love this <3 Haha. Thank you so much Vanessa - I felt like I wanted to write about our little meet up but I don't think I could top this, I may just have to share a link :P

Thrilled you're enjoying Secret Garden <3 I think it would've shattered a little piece of my heart if you'd hated it hahaha.

Enjoy all your goodies, look forward to hearing your thoughts on them in full.

Freddie x

Vanessa said...

Hi Freddie,

I enjoyed reliving our sniff-in as I wrote this post, which you are very welcome to share. :-)

I am startled at my Aftelier turnaround, though I can't see me being reconciled to Miel de Bois any time soon.

I reread my JAR post, which is not overly favourable, but I will keep an open mind. I am flittersniffer for a reason after all...;-)

More thoughts on my ''scented swag" in due course! X

Olfactoria's Travels said...

The two of you are on opposite ends of the taste spectrum in my observation, so seeing you so happily united warms every perfumista's heart! :)
Lovely post!

Vanessa said...

Hi Olfactoria,

I hope you are feeling better and that your own perfumista date went ahead okay.

It is true that Freddie has bolder taste than me in the main, and the dark, the medicinal and the animalic hold no terrors for him, though he admits to liking some lighter, more airy scents, plus we had definite crossover in Nombre Noir, Scandal, the Carners, Damien Bash, Ajne Calypso, and now the Afteliers it would seem. :-) I think I may quietly also be becoming a little bit more adventurous in my tastes, as evidenced by my reaction to my recent vintage windfall, of which I now learn there is a third batch to collect!

Tara said...

So pleased you managed to get together with the lovely Freddie. That bar looks amazing.

I was fascinated to read your thoughts on Nombre Noir as it is a perfume I have literally dreamt about. Surprised to read that is springlike and sherberty. I guess from the name I expected something dark. It comes up on ebay now and again for silly money that I wouldn't even comtemplate. I glad you have a little. Hold on to it!

Carol said...

oh how wonderful you two got to meet up - I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall!

(those test tube-y vials are super cool!)

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

Yes, that bar was something else! Freddie was charming and he has sniffed so much unusual stuff that was right off my radar.

I will bring my Nombre Noir sample next time I see you and would be interested to get your take on it. It really wasn't as rich as I was expecting, far from it. More like Nombre Gris and up!

Vanessa said...

Hi Carol,

You would have been welcome to join us, not just hang on the wall, fly-like! : - )

I can see myself seeking those vials out - they are jolly practical.

Unknown said...

How nice to hear about your fragrant meet-up with Freddie. It's always good fun to meet fellow perfume lovers and just spend time sniffing and swapping.

Incidentally, will you be joining the Perfume Lovers London meet-up on 23 May? It's the one with Patricia Nicolai! I'm terribly excited to be going for that! :)

Natalie said...

Two of the most admirably unique folks in the scent world, meeting up in Birmingham. I devoured every word of this post. Thanks for sharing!

Vanessa said...

Hi Joshua,

Thanks for dropping in - it is fun to meet fellow fumeheads as you well know yourself. And I hope to put a face to your name one day!

To answer your question, sadly I shan't be able to make that particular PLL event. I have something else planned that week, though it sounds as though it will be a very interesting talk.

Vanessa said...

Hi Natalie,

Aw shucks, thanks...

Freddie's 'terrible' and I'm 'bonkers', you could certainly say!

Scentrist said...

I enjoy seeing Freddie's reviews, and I give him credit for being far more adventurous than I on many fronts. Having come from a few talking sessions with others, it's nice to be able to have a one-to-one repartee and just enjoy the ephemeral experience in a relaxed fashion.

Nice piece, thanks for sharing your 'journey'. :)

Vanessa said...

Hi Scentrist,

Freddie is adventurous all right - nothing seems to faze him notewise, and he is especially gifted at pinpointing exactly what he is smelling and articulating a scent's own 'journey'.

Suzanne said...

I want to go to that bar!!! And the pear cider Freddie drank sounds awful darn good.

So disappointed, though, to hear that it wasn't love for you and Miel de Bois this second time round. (Heehee.) Well, good for Freddie for trying. :-)

Ines said...

How wonderful! :)
Now that I've read everything you smelled (and exchanged), I cannot but agree it was truly Bacchanalian in perfume terms. :D

I just have to add I am SO jealous you have a sample of Bolt of Lightning in your posession. :)

Undina said...

It sounds like a perfect perfumistas blind date! :) Thank youfor sharing it with us.

Vanessa said...

Hi Suzanne,

The bar was quite something! As was Miel de Bois, though not in a good way.. : - )

Vanessa said...

Hi Ines,

Bacchanalian is the word all right!

Haha - I know you are impatient to own Bolt of Lightning! I checked back to my original review of it from the time I had the JAR experience in Paris, and I have written "Carnal Flower, end of".

It is rather like a plusher version of Carnal Flower, I can see that. One of the more accessible / "regular" ones in the line, certainly, and crucially one not smelling of carnation or clove. There is just a tiny smidge left of these JARs and when I have resniffed them all I might return them to Freddie in fact as they are so rare and unique I feel he should keep them really!

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

It was exactly that! ; - )

The Smelly Vagabond said...

Hi Vanessa,

Joshua here! Indeed, it's a pity you can't make it for this one, but I'll be sure to let you know all about it :)

Also, I decided to start my own blog (instead of being lazy and just reading others' wonderful blogs), thought you might like to know!

Here's the link:

Vanessa said...

Hi Joshua,

I look forward to reading about the PLL talk, and good luck with your new blog - another 'smelly' blogger on the block!